The Landmark defense swarms Our Lady of Mercy quarterback Jameson Vest.
(Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
It was another thrilling edition in one of the county's best rivalries as the Landmark War Eagles rallied in the second half to beat the Our Lady of Mercy Bobcats 17-13.
After last year's overtime win by Landmark was marred by unsportsmanlike behavior, both teams handled themselves well this year. The celebration was much more subdued.
The low key celebration may also be because the War Eagles know they escaped against a game Bobcat squad. Landmark came into the game ranked number two in Class A by the AJC. Our Lady of Mercy gave them all they could handle and then some. It took a gutsy second half rally for Landmark to win.
Our Lady of Mercy's defense had a strong game, especially in the first half, limiting a team averaging 32 points a game. Their offense kept pace most of the night before running out of time late.
The Bobcat offense had a chance to set the tone early. After setting up at midfield following a Landmark three and out to start the game, Mercy quarterback Jameson Vest started it off hot with a 20 yard completion to Christian Coleman on the first play. On the second play Coleman took a handoff and swept around the end for 11 yards. Coleman's lightning quickness would cause fits all night.
Looking at a second and 16, Vest cooly found Keagan Jordan for 15 yards. The seemingly easy third and short was snuffed out by Landmark's Drew McMurrain for a loss to set up a field goal. Vest's 25 yard field goal attempt didn't go better as it was blocked.
Mercy didn't hang their heads. The defense made another stand to force a three and out, highlighted by a Jeremy Hall pass breakup on third down. Mercy handed the ball back after a short drive, but again the Bobcat defense forced a three and out. Landmark went for a reverse on third and long, but Delfayeo Matthews read it all the way to force Sam Dobbs backwards on a twelve yard loss.
Mercy started with the ball inside Landmark territory at the 45. They went right to the air, Vest hitting Matthews for 28 yards on a jump ball. On the second play, Vest hit Jordan Thomas for 13 yards on a swing pass. Two plays later, Vest plunged into the end zone from two yards out. The extra point would fail on a bad snap, giving the Bobcats a 6-0 lead with 1:19 left in the opening quarter.
Landmark's next drive was a mixture of good and bad. First, Darius Smith set the War Eagles up close to midfield with an excellent kick return. Mercy snapped back when Christian Coleman and Darryl Jackson both made tackles in the backfield on the first two plays. On third and 16, quarterback Stockton McGuire hit Smith on a skinny post for 35 yards. The drive would stall, forcing McGuire to attempt a field goal. The War Eagles would also suffer a bad snap as the ball sailed over the kicker's head to kill the opportunity.
Landmark would cut the next Mercy drive short when Lofton Tidwell recovered a fumble at midfield. A Bobcat unsportsmanlike penalty would move the drive down close before they bounced back for a big stand. Keagan Jordan and Alex Horlak each got a tackle in the backfield to set up third and 13. Landmark picked up nine on third with a McGuire-Sam Dobbs hookup, but the Bobcats held on fourth down.
Landmark didn't stay down long, forcing a three and out and getting the ball back at the Mercy 43. The drive would end with a 35 yard Stockton McGuire field goal to make it a 6-3 Mercy lead heading into the half.
After a frustrating first half, the War Eagles came out hungry to start the second half. A shared sack between Titus Creamer and Cody Chastain, along with a near interception by Joey Blount, quickly got the ball back. Staring down a third and 11, McGuire hit Dobbs for 16 to move the chains. Austin Luckie made the play of the night, catching a 25 yard touchdown on his back after a Mercy defender tipped the ball in the air. McGuire's extra point gave Landmark a 10-6 lead midway through the third quarter.
Our Lady of Mercy answered right back. Christian Coleman started it off with a kick return out to midfield. The drive looked in danger early with a second and 19, but Jameson Vest wiped it out with a 21 yard scramble. Coleman added an 18 yard run where he juked his way through and around the defense. Landmark nearly killed the drive with a big William Higbie hit on a third down, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the chains. Coleman finished off the drive with a four yard score, sweeping around the right end and stretching just past the goal line. Vest's extra point put Mercy back up on top 13-10 late in the third quarter.
The teams traded stalled drives before Landmark struck the fatal blow on a 66 yard scoring drive. The War Eagles chewed it up little by little, getting contributions from Dobbs, McGuire, and Chastain. Darius Smith capped it off with a 21 yard burst for a 17-10 lead with 5:17 left.
Mercy had a couple shots to come back. The first drive started off well with a 19 yard pass from Vest to Coleman. It would be pushed back with a Joshua Cobb sack. Lofton Tidwell killed it with an interception on a deep ball. After Landmark could not get a first down, the Bobcats got the ball back on their own 17 with 56 seconds left and one time out.
The drive started great as Vest threw a laser to Delfayeo Matthews for 23 yards. The team rushed to the line and spiked the ball for the next play. A false start pushed them back five yards. On second down, Landmark dodged a bullet when a linebacker shoved a receiver in the back before the ball arrived. Though a pass interference call was likely warranted, the Bobcats still would have been in a nice hole. On third down, Vest scrambled to get a bit of yardage back. On fourth down, all that was left was a hail mary. Vest launched it deep, but Landmark's Joey Blount came up with a pick.
Neither team is likely happy with any sort of moral victory. Our Lady of Mercy pushed the number two ranked team to the brink. Landmark shook off a scare and battled for a win. Both will come away with aspects to build on and others to correct. Until next year, they can stew before the next meeting.
Our Lady of Mercy will host Holy Innocents next Friday. Landmark hits the road to play Strong Rock Christian.